Happy hours, holiday parties, and office gossip are back. For remote workers, the FOMO is real.
- Much is written about the professional opportunities remote employees miss by not working in person.
- But less is said about how they lose out on fun and social ties and connections.
"@here Announcement coming at 4pm," the Slack message read.
I felt a sudden frisson. What could it be? A new hire, maybe? A team reorg, perhaps?
The minutes ticked by until finally I heard that pleasant knocking sound of a notification; excitedly, I switched screens. "Official New York Happy Hour Poll! Which December evening works best?"
Oh. Just another office holiday party I won't be attending.
Allow me to explain: I work from home full-time — quite happily, I might add — from my apartment in Boston. My colleagues are largely based at my company's headquarters in New York, and during the workday, dispatches from the office group chat are my primary lifeline to humanity.
This particular 4 p.m. missive was an all-too-painful reminder.
On an intellectual level, I realize it's silly to experience pangs of FOMO for work get-togethers that I can't possibly go to. But on a middle-school level, I can't help but feel a stab of sadness about not being included in office social life, especially during this most social time of year. Work isn't exactly fun, but my colleagues are — and I want to hang out with them.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many people were trapped at home, remote-work FOMO was nonexistent. You did your job, chatted with folks on Google Meet, and maybe attended a Zoom happy hour every so often. It wasn't great, but it was a novelty. And besides, everyone was doing it.
But now that more employees are back to in-person work, there are good times to be had — and remote employees are taking notice. About 20% of work-from-homers expressed worries that they'll miss out on fun at the office with their colleagues, according to data provided to Insider from a LinkedIn survey conducted last year.
Count Erin Dixon, a PR account manager, among them. Dixon lives in suburban Boston and last year took a job at an agency outside of Washington, DC. Most days, Dixon enjoys working from home. But she also describes herself as a "super extrovert," and she's sometimes wistful about her lack of social connections with colleagues, most of whom work together in an office two days a week.
Last autumn, her company hosted an Oktoberfest event for employees. "I was the eager beaver joining the Zoom call ready with the pretzel-making kit they sent me, but no one showed up," she said. "Everyone else was in the office was having fun and drinking beers."
Dixon tried to look on the bright side. "I don't think I'd feel this way if I didn't really like my colleagues and think we would genuinely get along well in person," she said.
At work, fun is not frivolous
Less is said, though, about lost fun and social connections: the catharsis of a good lunchtime kvetch session; the conversations about kids, partners, and life stuff; and the boozy banter at the occasional after-work drinks.
On their face, those interactions have little to do with work. And yet, they're the very stuff of social cohesion that makes people's jobs easier and more enjoyable.
It's no small thing: Research shows that having strong ties at work makes us more productive, engaged, and happier. Your coworkers might not be the people you'd pick to spend time with, but they do come to play an important role in your overall quality of life.
"Fun is not superfluous," the behavioral scientist and author Mike Rucker said. "We spend a lot of our waking hours at work. And over time, if you're not enjoying yourself or feeling a connection with coworkers, you might ask yourself, 'Why am I doing this?' And you might decide to leave."
It's becoming increasingly clear, though, that full-time remote workers inhabit an altogether different realm than their office-going peers. According to a survey of 1,000 remote workers, 41% of work-from-homers interact with only a handful coworkers each day and tend to have fewer non-work-related conversations with coworkers.
Datis Mohsenipour, a marketing executive based in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a prime example.
Last year, he worked remotely for an organization on the other side of the country, in Newfoundland. While his colleagues weren't reporting to the office because of the pandemic, they had monthly in-person meetups and quarterly celebrations, which Mohsenipour would tune in for virtually.
He recalled trying — unsuccessfully — to participate in conversations; he'd see and hear colleagues laughing on his screen, but he was rarely in on the joke.
"People were super welcoming," he said, "but I always felt like an outsider."
Mohsenipour left the company after nine months and returned to his former employer. The lack of social connections wasn't the only reason for his departure, he said, but it was a "contributor."
No mo' FOMO
To be sure, not every remote worker experiences FOMO. Frankly, I don't feel it most days. Remote work works for my life, my family, and my job, and despite the drawbacks, I'd rather be WFH than any other setup.
And yet, as I'm a full-time work-from-homer, FOMO is inevitable every once in a while. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome it, said Suzanne Wylde, a leadership coach based in London.
First, Wylde advises to isolate the emotion. Are you missing socializing with colleagues or socializing in general? If it's the former, try reaching out to people you work with for regular one-on-one phone calls or virtual events like trivia, and, if it's in your company's travel budget, make plans for regular visits.
But if it's a lack of social interaction in general, Wylde recommends leaning in to the benefits and flexibility of your WFH lifestyle. Relish extra time with your friends, children, and pets; take a yoga class in the middle of the day; or sign up for a volunteer gig in your community. (And while you're at it, start a running list of all the things you hate about working in person — the smell of the office fridge, for starters, or your hellish commute.)
Finally, whenever FOMO creeps in, remind yourself you can make a change if you want it. "What's right for you now doesn't have to be forever," Wylde said. "You can go back to in-person work someday."
I intend to follow all this advice. In the meantime, I'm checking the Amtrak schedule to New York. I have a few openings.
This story orginally published on November 22, 2021.
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